10 years ago today, I spent the night in a hotel in Montgomery, Alabama- preparing to go to Basic Training the next day. At the time I was not sure if I was going to do one enlistment, 20 years or if I was not even going to make it through Basic Training. I made it through Basic, then through one of the toughest, academically speaking, tech schools in the military, served for seven years and found a career that I believe is my calling. So today, I want to share some of the things I have learned since leaving Smalltown, USA.
1.) Red dirt roads are a part of my soul.
Every time I come home, there is a part of me that just completely relaxes when I hit the red dirt road I grew up on. I have no cell phone service, a 30 minute drive to the nearest grocery store and a sense of peace that does not exist anywhere else. I learned so many lessons walking up and down that road over the years. And that is why I will always be connected to it. Let me roll down the windows, breathe in that dirt road smell and I can literally just enjoy myself for hours.
2.) It’s hard to stay in touch with hometown friends.
People grow apart as they grow up, but this is especially true if you move away. While I have tried to stay in touch with many people the miles and differences in experiences have opened gaps between us. That does not mean that I avoid people when I am home-but our different experiences can make it hard to relate. There are some friends that this is not the case with- we just pick up where we left off. And there are others I have not talked to in years. At the end of the day though-we all tried our best, but life happened and not being there every day certainly makes a difference.
3.) Experiencing new things enhances your life.
There is this perception that being from a small town means that you do not want to try new things. Huh? In my experience-that is not the whole truth. There are just many things that small town people have never been exposed to and it may take us a little longer to warm up to it. Here’s the thing small town friends- I really suggest that you try the new thing. That you give it a chance. It may end horribly or you could find the thing that you have always been looking for. Your home town will still be there after your experiences and the stories you’ll get to tell are equally awesome. So get out a live boldly- you won’t regret it.
4.) Taking a leap of faith may put you exactly where you need to be.
Three years ago, today, I separated from the military and I took one of the biggest leaps of faith that I had in my adult life-to trust that I was going to get my dream job. In the year prior to getting out of the service, I had gone back and forth about whether or not I wanted to stay in or get out-but at the end of the day I decided it was time to move on. I left the security of the military and hoped that the job I landed in would be as good as I imagined. And you know what- it’s been even better. Yes there have been some crazy days, but what job doesn’t have them? But let me tell you this- I would not have this job if I had played it safe and moved back home to start some sort of career that was expected of me. And I believe, firmly, that that leap of faith put me exactly where I need to be.
5.) You should always try new foods.
Yes, I know, fried chicken is a safe bet- people really can’t screw it up- but why not try the new food? My small town experience consisted of several restaurants that all had basically the same menu and it took me a good five years to start branching out and I am so glad I did. While I have not always enjoyed every food choice I’ve had, I have been surprised at all the different foods that I do really like. Sushi. Korean BBQ. Thai Curry. Indian food. The list goes on and on. So really- try it- you may only get to experience it once and you do not want to say you went with fried chicken instead.
6.) There is such a thing as traffic jams (AKA- extra dance party time in the car).
Traffic jams do not exist back home, unless you get stuck behind a tractor. The Baltimore/DC area is a rude awakening for anyone that is used to two lane highways and cows regularly crossing the road. And you can get mad at it but I choose to say ‘bless their heart’ and dance it out in the car. Because my life has always moved at a slower pace-I kinda just go with the pace I am given.
7.) Your small town sensibilities are not a weakness.
So what if you are not ‘cultured’- where you come from is not a weakness. I was taught to care for others, to respect others and to trust my gut. In a town where virtually everyone knew everyone-those things were incredibly important. Guess what? They’re also important everywhere. And I will bet money that your small town sensibilities that say to say ‘thank you’ for the small stuff will go a long way in a world where many people have forgotten what thank you is. Do not- FOR ONE SECOND- be embarrassed about where you come from. Your perspective is needed in this world, even if people would like you to think otherwise.
8.) You’ll miss small town traditions.
No one goes to football on Friday nights here-unless their kid is playing. I still go to football games every time I am home and I am related to no one on the field. I’d wager that more than half the people in the stands can say the same thing. And you know what- I miss it. I miss those traditions that I did not realize were traditions until after I left. A small town community is there for each other, in ways that I have yet to see replicated in a big city.
9.) Seeing the stars and having silence is not a given.
There is no walking outside and seeing the stars at night and hearing the crickets chirp. I’m actually more likely to hear a siren from the fire station up the road than to hear crickets. Besides taking some time on the dirt road- I always take some time to just look up when I’m home. Look up and see the stars again. Close my eyes and hear the quiet. It is not lost on me that the noises of daily life are completely different and I know which one I’d prefer.
10.) I will never stop being a small town girl.
At the end of the day-no matter how many years I live in the city- I’ll always be a small town girl. I will always be someone that roots for the little guy and wants to give the kid a chance to prove themselves-because someone once gave me the same chance. Someone once looked at me and saw that I had potential, even though I came from a town that they had never heard of and it absolutely cemented one thing-there is nothing wrong with being who I am. Absolutely nothing wrong with owning my Highland Home roots and wanting to give other small town people the same chances that I got. See here’s the thing- us small town folk look out for each other- because that is what we have always done. And the small town girl in me loves every bit of that philosophy for life.
It’s been a good ten years. It has been challenging. I have had to grow up, learn to be independent and do it all without a safety net-but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I am fortunate that my family supports me-no matter what. I was fortunate to grow up where I grew up and so blessed to have that unique perspective to look at the world through. I was once told by a teacher who barely knew me that I was ‘independent’- that I had a self confidence that was not normally seen in someone my age. And I have no doubt that that would have been absent if I had grown up anywhere else.